I wanted to write a post today for those of us who are feeling emotionally fragile right now – for my friends and loved ones feeling scared and anxious, full of nervous energy and downright overwhelmed. I want to tell you that you’re not alone. I get it. So many of us do. It’s a normal reaction to the uncertainty in our world.
As humans, our primal brain is programmed to want to run from anything scary or that has the potential to hurt us- wild animals, dangerous people, or even a virus. Right now many people feel like they can’t run- like there is literally nowhere to run- and that can leave us feeling trapped, suffocated, and helpless. When we feel trapped or helpless or not able to control our circumstances, it’s perfectly understandable that for so many people this leads to crippling anxiety or feelings of panic and fear.
While I’m not currently confronted with feelings of anxiety over the virus, there have been other times in my life when for one reason or another anxiety was something I had to deal with. For me, it was the waking up in the middle of the night with a pounding heart and a racing mind kind of anxiety; the kind where you feel panicked about all that you need to get done and there’s not enough time to do it all so you might as well get up at 3am kind. While mine may be different than what you’re dealing with at the moment, they still share some similarities.
I have come to understand what so many experts have been trying to teach us; that is, that more times than not our anxieties, our phobias even, are rooted in something that happened to us in our pasts. It could have been something traumatic or life altering, or maybe something that was a little more subtle, pervasive, and so much a part of our day-to-day life that it just became part of our “normal.” Take for example the parent or caregiver who had tendencies of paranoia, or hypochondria, or excessive worrying. Oftentimes as kids we absorb those emotional states and we mirror the behavior of the adults who take care of us. It becomes part of our programming. And so now when we find ourselves in the scary unknown, the old default programming has the perfect opportunity to rear its head and say, “I’m back”! And for some people, IT can feel stronger than US.
But here’s the secret: We don’t have to believe every thought we think.
Let me say that again: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE EVERY THOUGHT YOU THINK.
It’s going to take some practice, but try getting in the habit of asking yourself, “Do I really believe this? Is there any proof that this is going to happen to me?” The circumstances happening all around us are not something we can control. But we can control our thoughts, which in turn will dramatically impact how we feel emotionally as well as physically in the sense that our bodies have physical reactions to our emotions (think pounding heart, sweaty palms, headaches, etc). When we control our thoughts by reframing them, if need be, and rewriting the sentences in our brains to something more positive, courageous, or empowered, our emotions change, and then the action we take can be healthier and more mindful. When we have more mental energy and calmer thinking, the results we’ll get from the action we choose to take will ultimately be better than if we had acted impulsively or from a heightened emotional state.
You’re smart people. Just like you filter through fake news and spam and junk posts on social media, try to filter through the fake news coming from your own brain. When we let IT be in charge, our nervous system goes haywire. Our bodies pay the price. Remember, you’re the boss! You’re in charge of your thoughts.
You may have some extra time on your hands right now, or conversely, you may be overwhelmed by trying to home school your kids while working full time from home. Maybe you’re just looking for something to distract you from the news or your social media feed. Whatever the case may be, I want to share a couple of my favorite books on this topic. The first is “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk. The second is “When The Body Says No” by Gabor Mate. Both of these books have been invaluable to me in helping me better understand myself, my students, and human nature in general. If you’re wanting to educate yourself on the power your mind has over your circumstances and your health, you’ll love these two books.
The last book I want to share is one that most of you are no doubt familiar with: “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a true story about Frankl’s time spent in the concentration camps of World War II. This is my go-to tool for when I need to re-find my perspective. I love this book. Allow me to end this post with my favorite quote from Frankl’s book:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Until next time… wishing you all health and happiness!